How to Sell Your Book: 10 Proven Methods
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Want to know how to sell your book? Years ago I learned that “Nothing happens until someone sells something.” That’s as true in the book business as it is in any other field. You cannot reach your dreams and goals as a professional writer until readers start buying your book. Selling a book is just as difficult as writing it.
Sadly, too many authors today act like prima donnas. They say all they want to do is write and don’t care to promote their writing. I guess we’d all like to be in that position, wouldn’t we? However, that is totally unrealistic in today’s publishing world. In fact, it has not been true for over a decade.
Some new writers think they can just post their book on Amazon.com and be discovered. The reality is, even Amazon’s book promotion scheme called KDP Select doesn’t work very well these days. Competition is high. Now Amazon wants authors to buy book ads, but that is the last thing you want to do.
If you want to call yourself a professional author, you must promote your own book. That is part of your author job description whether you sign with a Big Five New York City publisher or self-publish your own ebook.
Think of book promotion this way. You are invisible. No one is going to buy your book if they don’t know who you are or that your book exists. You must become visible to the people most likely to buy your book. No third party will spend the time or money to do that. It’s the responsibility of the author.
Your goal is to sell as many books as possible with the least expense and effort. Your goal is not to try to sell your book to everyone. That costs too much money. Your goal is to reach a target market as cheaply as possible. The best way to do that is by leveraging the power of the Internet.
Authors who don’t want to promote their own book are fertile ground for scammers. The book promotion scammers take their money but don’t guarantee results.
Top Ways To Gain Visibility
Here are the Top 10 most cost-effective ways to get your book in front of the public so they will have an opportunity to buy it. Your whole perspective about being an author will change when you discover how to sell your book. Sales bring new enthusiasm.
How to Sell Your Book #1 – Create an Author Website
You need visibility, and in the 21st century, a website is the way to get it. I don’t think you can properly promote a book without an author website. Notice that four of the ten best ways to “get visible” is related to having an author website. It is essential because:
- People will visit it when they hear about you and your book through word of mouth
- Media people will visit it when they are deciding whether or not to do a story about you, and, of course…
- It’s the place where you can actually sell your book
An author website can be simple or complex. For example, you can create a single programmed selling page called a “squeeze page,” or you can have a traditional site where people are able to learn about you and your book and buy it. You may not want the complexities of collecting money, shipping, or making the book available for download, but instead direct people to a site like Amazon.com. They handle the transaction, including collecting taxes and handling shipping, for a percentage.
I always recommend that you use free promotion before you start paying for any, and the only exception to that is a website. You need a website that meets your needs as an author.
How to Sell Your Book #2 – Blog Regularly
You can have an author website without being a blogger. I mention blogging separately because of its great importance. You can blog on your author website.
Mainline book publishers are always looking for someone who has a platform before they published their book. A platform means they have a following, a ready-made book-buying public. A good way to build a following is to write regular blog posts. A blogging platform facilitates relationship marketing, and that is the most powerful way to sell books or anything else.
Publishers understand this. One mainline publisher said he would be interested in looking at a book by anyone who had from 500-1,000 unique daily visitors.
See the Blogger Track for the details you need to start your author blog.
A blog is useful in several ways. You get to share who you are, your view on writing, life, your book topic, plus you get to promote your book. Each blog entry needs to be only about 750-1,500 words. If you’ve written a book you know that’s not much.
What should you write about?
- Topics related to the subject of your book. If your book is about travel, write on travel topics. If your book is about car maintenance, write about that. You can comment on news articles or give tips and tricks related to your book.
- Topics related to the marketing of your book. Let people know your Amazon.com ranking. Let them know when you’re going to be on the radio or will be doing a book signing. People are interested in your book-related adventures.
- Excerpts from your book or a new one you’re writing. Reprint a few paragraphs of your book and augment what you said with new information or insights. If you have a new book in process, spoon-feed small portions of it as blog posts to entice readers to buy it when it’s finished.
Many people think they need to make a blog entry every day to sustain reader interest. Not true. Once or twice per week is enough. A blog is best when you combine it with the special type of newsletter which I describe below. You send a newsletter telling them about your new blog post and that will boost interest in your site and your book.
How to Sell Your Book #3 – Do Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
If you have a book sales website, a blog, or a combination of the two, you want to do SEO. When you do it properly, your site will appear on the first page of Google search results, and that means lots of valuable free traffic for you.
SEO need not be complicated. You want to pick a title that people using Google (and other search engines) are likely to type into the search box. You must also include these targeted “keywords” a few times in the text of your articles. This is so the “search spider” that indexes your site will know the topic of the article and can rank it.
Another feature of SEO is called “backlinks.” The idea is that the more sites that link back to your site, the more popular your site is perceived to be by the Google ranking algorithm. Popular sites get a higher ranking on the search results page. You never want to pay for backlinks—this is considered cheating and Google has ways of catching cheaters and knocking them out of search results. You want to get as many as possible naturally, and that occurs when people like your site, or a post on it, and shares the link to it.
The painless way of getting good SEO ranking is by adding the Yoast plugin to your WordPress site. When you have it installed, you simply complete a few blanks and it gives you tips about how to improve your ranking. I would say the Yoast plugin is essential for those who want to get free traffic from Google.
How to Sell Your Book #4 – Create a Newsletter
Every author needs to have an automated newsletter on their website/blog. The idea is that you offer some incentive, such as a free download on a topic related to your book to entice site visitors will “opt-in” to your list. Then you can email them regularly and build a marketing relationship with them.
Why is it important to do this? There are several reasons:
- It helps you “grow” your following (or “platform” as it is called in the publishing business). It is best to have a following before you launch your book, but it’s never too late to start.
- An opt-in system allows you to send regular newsletters without fear that someone will get angry at you for spamming. People just unsubscribe if they no longer want to receive email from you. These mailing systems, called autoresponders, automate the process so you don’t need to deal with it on a daily basis. I discuss this here.
- Normally you offer site visitors an incentive to join your list, such as a free PDF report (5-8 pages) which is related to some aspect of the topic of your book, and which they can immediately download.
- When people sign up you are able to contact them with a special offer if they don’t buy the first time they visit your site.
- If you release a new book you can send people a newsletter to let them know it is available. You may be able to convert 3% of your site visitors to buyers if you are lucky, but it’s likely that you will sell 30%-50% of your newsletter subscribers when you release a new book. Think about that—if you have an opt-in list of 1,000 pre-qualified people, and half purchase your new $12 ebook, it becomes a matter of grossing $6,000 in just a few hours. Never discount books to your fan base. They are your main profit center.
- Having an opt-in list is especially important if the sales transaction is handled on Amazon.com or other such sites. They do not give you buyer contact data. Those who buy your book are usually your best customers for future releases, so getting as many people as possible on your opt-in list is important. By the way, it’s important that you have your author website link on the copyright page of your book. Readers will visit your site and you can add them to your list.
Your newsletter can be very simple. If nothing else it can be teasers about the blog posts you have written. You need to send a newsletter at least once a month to let your fans know you are alive and well.
By the way, you can sign up for my newsletter here.
How to Sell Your Book #5 – Send Review Copies
Giving away free books is a terrible way to market books. People think they’ll get reviews by doing that, but it doesn’t work very well anymore. Some sources say only 1 out of 500 readers who pay for a book bothers to review it on Amazon, even fewer if they got it for free.
However, there are ways to get both endorsements and reviews (learn about the distinction here), and here is how you can do that with review copies.
If you have published a printed book, send out free review copies to people who have an audience and are likely to read and review your book. Again, this is horses for courses; you want to send review copies to newspapers, magazines, blogs, or other outlets that deal with the topic of your book. Don’t send a review copy to a knitting magazine if your “how-to” book is about auto mechanics.
One mistake new authors make is sending review copies to friends, relatives, or business associates. Don’t do that because these people are a prime book-buying market for you. Let them, of all people, buy a copy at full price. Well, maybe not your Mom, but definitely don’t send free review copies to all those pesky cousins. The right kind of reviewers helps word-of-mouth sales so that is where you need to distribute your free review copies.
How many review copies should you send? Start with 25 copies. Send them by the cheapest postal rate. Make sure you do some research so they are directed to an actual person, not just “Book Review Editor.” Always enclose a brief cover letter. The letter should include your mailing address, email address, website link, and telephone number.
Limit the content of your letter to three pithy paragraphs telling the reviewer why you think the reviewer will enjoy your book. You are writing a tightly phased sales letter here, so keep it short and to the point. Keep in mind that many reviewers get hundreds of books each year, so you generally need to use those paragraphs to entice them to read your book.
Should you offer free ebook downloads to everyone to generate reviews? That strategy has not worked well for a decade, and you can learn why here.
How to Sell Your Book #6 – Write Guest Posts on Other Blogs
If you are blogging on your own site, you should ask other bloggers if you can do a guest blog for them. Their readers may become your readers. There are a couple of important things to consider when you write a blog for someone else:
- Verify that your book topic and the topic of the other person’s blog are compatible. No point in writing a blog on furnace repair if the blogger specializes in writing about child care.
- Be sure their blog gets enough traffic to justify your efforts. Don’t waste your time if their blog is on a free blogging sites like Blogger, WordPress (dot com), or Wix or Weebly.
- Don’t ask the blog owner out of the blue. Follow the person’s blog for a while and add them to the favored blogger’s list on your site. Make a pitch by email. Tell them what you want to write about and why you think their readers will be interested.
- Confirm word count if you get a green light. It’s bad form to write too short or too long.
- Agree on a delivery date and deliver it at least a few days early. Most bloggers schedule articles and if you don’t deliver on time it means they need to come up with something else on short notice. Not good.
- Don’t overtly promote your book. The helpfulness of your blog article, the fact that you are an author on the topic, and a link to your author website is the right amount of self-promotion in this case.
You may wish to invite the other blogger to guest blog on your site. It’s a nice thing to do.
How to Sell Your Book #7 – Use Social Media
You want to use social media like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram, and others—but you don’t want social media to use you.
What do I mean by that? Don’t tie your star to social media. Use it judiciously. Use it in ways that will help you promote your book, but don’t become enamored with it. Above all, you want to use social media to drive visitors to your site—you never want to use your site to drive traffic to social media sites.
The “Like” Fallacy
When it comes to Facebook, many people think in terms of creating a huge fan page. They want as many “likes” as possible. Forgive me for swimming against the current, but I think that approach is wrong. I provide reasons here.
Why? The whole point is to drive people to your website so you can win them over, capture their contact data, and sell them your book. Lots of “likes” on a Facebook page doesn’t facilitate that.
Use Facebook to drive traffic to your site, and don’t use your site to drive traffic to Facebook. You control your web hosting. You control the content of the site. You can always have a web presence no matter what happens to a third-party provider like Facebook, and that’s the way you want it.
How do you use Facebook to drive traffic to your site? Don’t worry about people “liking” you on Facebook. Even if 10,000 people like you, it doesn’t necessarily mean book sales.
The best strategy is for you to put a “share” button (or “like” button that works like to share button) on your own site. When visitors click on it they automatically share your site with all their friends. That is the way for your site to grow exponentially. Under the right circumstances, your site could go viral.
Do you see the point of this strategy? If someone “likes” you, they see it on your Facebook page and say, “Wow, this person has 5,000 likes.” But that is as far as it goes. If they are visiting your web site and clicking on a share button, that means they are creating a post on their own page that has a link to your website. If that person has 500 friends, and 10% of them share it with their 500 friends, and the chain continues, that means you could drive up to 50,000 people to your site, where visitors can buy your book, in just a few hours. That is one method you can use to go viral,” but something you can’t achieve with mere “likes.”
How to Sell Your Book #8 – Make Comments on Forums and Other Websites
There are online forums for every topic under the sun, including the topic of your book. You want to visit forums and contribute to them to let people know about you and your book. Don’t make the mistake of going to forums for writers; if you want to sell books, go to places that are topic-oriented.
For example, if you have written a book about how to grow orchids, you want to discover where the orchid enthusiasts gather. The best way to do that is by doing a simple Google search. I typed in the words, “orchid forum” and the first 10 pages of listings were filled with an enormous number of opportunities to promote your book.
There are a number of things you want to do to properly promote your book on forums. The first thing to do is not promote your book! I know that sounds strange, but the purpose of all forums is to share information. If you go into heavy marketing mode on a forum, people will treat you like you have the plague and the forum owner may even ban you.
You can promote your book effectively without images or a lot of hype, and that pleases forum moderators. People will click on your website link if they perceive you are an authority based on the content of your forum posts.
Most blogs/websites have a comment section at the end of an article. Feel free to leave a positive, helpful comment, even at a competitor’s site. Again, don’t over-promote. Just add to the conversation and you’ll get noticed. How much time should you dedicate to forum activity to promote your book? I would suggest that you select 3-5 comment sections/forums that meet your needs and spend an hour per week interacting with others there.
What is the worst type of forum to promote your book? Forums (or Facebook pages) that focus on helping authors. Other authors want to sell you their book and are unlikely to buy your book. For best results, stay away from author sites and comment sections to sell your book. Instead, go to places where people talk about the topic of your book.
How to Sell Your Book #9 – Send News Releases
A news release, or a series of them, serves a dual purpose. First, it lets people know about your book, and secondarily the online version will provide valuable backlinks to your author website, which is good when people do an online search for you or the topic of your book. Backlinks are important to your SEO as I mentioned above.
Don’t make the mistake of writing a “new book published” type of news release. News outlets delete them at the speed of light. Your news release must contain actual news or feature material, not be a warmed-over advertisement. I offer a free mini-course about how to write promotional news releases, and you can get it as a bonus when you sign up for my newsletter.
You want to send your news release to these types of outlets in this order:
- Free distribution services. There used to be scores of these free services like PRlog, but owners discovered the service is a big money-maker. Today, free services offer limited distribution and are often just used to entice you to buy their paid services. Nevertheless, limited free distribution can give you a boost. Free services will help you hone your news release writing skills and are a useful way to test results on a small scale.
- Blogs that deal with the topic of your book. This might be your best promotional opportunity. Most bloggers are hungry for things to write about. Your news release may trigger a blog post they will write. I mention radio shows/podcasts below. Sending a news release to hosts is a great way for them to notice you. You don’t have to beg them for a slot. They will contact you if they like what they see in the news release.
- Paid news release services. As always, I suggest that you not be in a big rush to spend money on promotion. Do as much free promotion as you can. However, at a certain point, it may be wise to spend money on a news release distribution service. Generally, you want to use them for a well-planned campaign rather than a single release. You get backlinks to your website and the opportunity to sell books, but your release may also be picked up by Google News, which is always a good thing.
How do you create a news release that media outlets will actually want to print? You need to create a newsworthy “hook.” For example, if your book is about gardening, write a news release with a headline like this: “New Gardening Techniques Save Water.” Quote yourself freely as an authority since the news person who picks up your story will get the byline. Mention your book in passing, never try to sell it overtly. Always provide a link to your website and contact data. Many news people will not print your news release but will email or telephone you for an exclusive interview instead.
It’s a good idea to send out a news release every other week to news outlets for a few months. Give it a rest for a few months, and then send out a new series of news releases.
How to Sell Your Book #10 – Get on the Radio or a Podcast
People listen to the radio and podcasts, and they buy books they hear about. One day I drove to a radio station about an hour away from my home to do an interview about one of my information products. When I got back home that afternoon. I saw that my website had registered over $3,000 in sales, and they were based solely on that 30-minute interview.
There’s more to that story and I love to tell it. A few months later, I was checking my sales one day and saw that a few thousand dollars had hit my account in a few hours. I was mystified about the source of the income. It turned out that the host of the radio show I was on had called in sick on that day. They replayed the show I was on and that triggered a new wave of sales.
Today, you can do radio or podcast interviews by telephone, Skype or Zoom.
Regardless if you call in or they call you, be ready in advance. Be by your phone or computer in a quiet place and don’t let anyone interrupt you. Try to use a landline if you can, otherwise verify that your cell phone has an excellent signal. Turn off call-waiting or other services that may interrupt your conversation. Don’t wait until there is a beeping sound on your phone during the on-air interview. Make sure you have turned off the phone services that can interrupt you well before the call.
How do you get your book plugs in without sounding like a huckster? That’s the fun part. If the host or person calling in asks a question, say something like, “That’s a great question that I cover it in detail in Chapter 5 of my book…[title]…” and then answer the question. By doing this, you refer to the title of your book in a casual way.
Always mention your author website URL at the start of the interview and at the end. For example, the host will say something like, “We’re pleased to have Jane Smith in the studio (or on the phone) with us today, and she is going to be talking about how to bake scrumptious chocolate chip cookies.”
That’s when you jump in and say, “Thanks for having me. These recipes come from my new book Utopian Cookies for All and it’s available at my website, www.UtopianCookies.com.” As the interview comes to a close, say, “Thank you for having me. I’m sure your listeners will have more cookie questions and they can contact me through my website, www.UtopianCookies.com.” Don’t ask permission, just do it. The radio show/podcast builds listeners and sells ads based on the content you are offering, so it is right and fair that you dip your beak in the income stream.
Use every means possible to promote your site, but remember your web site is the anchor for all your book promotion work. Use off-line promotion whenever you can, but Internet-based promotion is low cost and effective. That’s how to sell your book.
Internet-related promotion includes:
- Your author website
- Your blog, which is part of your web site
- Writing guest blogs for others
- Using Social media
- Using forums, newsgroups, and comments on other sites to gain visibility
- Making your media kit widely available
Off-line promotion includes things like:
- Sending review copies
- Doing book signings
- Speaking to groups
- Sending news releases
- Conducting seminars
- Doing radio, podcast, and television interviews
- Being the subject of news stories
- Using reader testimonials wisely
Never pay for promotion—not even an ad—until you have exhausted every opportunity for free publicity. Paid publicity is expensive and it will cut into your profitability. There is plenty of free publicity available, especially when you find ways to make the topic of your book newsworthy.